Sunday, December 30, 2007


shadow-patches, haibun by Janice M. Bostok, Bernard Gadd and Catherine Mair. Hallard Press. 1998. ISBN 0-86477-045-6.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

This selection of haibun, published almost a decade ago, brought together three authors. Janice M. Bostok, Bernard Gadd and Catherine Mair are well-established writers of haiku and related forms of Japanese short poetry. Their haibun have been previously published or are printed here for the first time. Artwork is by Janice M. Bostok.

Haibun’s imagistic prose and haiku-like verse connect in the reader’s imagination and memory events or details encountered as part of a real or imaginary event. Like haiku, haibun aim at insight. The haibun in this readable and accessible collection are part of the developing distinctive New Zealand haibun voice.

Each poet contributes nine haibun. Janice M. Bostok is an Australian poet, editor and artist and her work has been published widely both in Australia and overseas. Many of her haibun relate to nature, her country, relationships and life on her family farm. The title of the collection comes from her poem “Getting Off The Round-About”:

An outdoor light snaps on. A branch shadow-patches curtains, walls, and ceiling. Another slow revolution, then

with each gust leaves
against the window

“Winter Beach” is a poem about a solitary walk beside the Pacific Ocean:

I wake to the sounds of surf, for a moment not knowing where I am. Then I remember 5 a.m. Cold light enters through the hoary window. The Pacific ocean at full tide laps the frontage to the cottage. Fog clings to distant cliffs, today will be

grey seeping through
the walls

“Coming To Grips” relates details about life on the family’s banana plantation, where humour is to be found despite the many hardships of farming life:

We have lived on this banana plantation for many years. Years of struggle, heartbreak, budgeting bank loans, of baby nappies hanging limply in the January heat. When rain breaks through it’s a stinging sweaty heat. In a more humorous moment I once wrote:

tropical rain
brings lush green grasses –
and mould on my shoes

In “Two-Thirds Of A Trilogy” we see the poet meditating on “thirty-three years of memories,” her two marriages to the same man, and their handicapped son:

Our son is placed in care. Weeks into months, months into years. We visit, every second month, drive six hours each round trip. Exhausted, physically, emotionally, we separate, divorce. I build a small cottage on the farm.

In “One Lifetime Is Never Enough” we encounter the failing health of the poet’s husband, his appointment with a specialist and the poet’s solitary drive home from the hospital:

The long drive home from the hospital alone, I talk to myself. A sticky film of light rain muddies the windscreen. His words telling me to drive carefully keep resounding in my head. He recovered! He’s safe in hospital! I don’t want to have an accident, now. Images from the night before he entered the hospital keep returning.

we caress the same thought holding us together
each time may be our last

Bernard Gadd has published haiku, tanka, haibun, and other poetry and fiction in New Zealand and elsewhere. His haibun contain topics such as a visit to Britain, a trip to Japan, a girl’s fall from a derelict railway bridge, a chance meeting in a maze and the poet writing at his computer.

“Kotohira-Gu Shrine” details the poet’s visit to Japan, where he was entertained by two of his ESOL students, Mieko and Akie:

An old man starts talking to me in Japanese. “He admires New Zealanders,” Akie translates. “Your country is against nuclear weapons.” It’s a chance to use one of my few Japanese words. “Arigato,” thanks.

we sit
smile wordless
toast each other with iced tea

“White Roar” takes place in New Zealand, where white water rafting is one of the pleasures enjoyed by tourists and others:

worn planks thrum, dark grey rock descends fern gripped from blue/white sky meander from left narrow mumbling spume of water spills far to, deep under timber, white river roar

but in this haibun a simple pleasure turns into something scary as a girl falls (or is pushed) “slipping spiralling towards water rush”

frond curls
an instant
at collar bone

In “Riding the Gondola,” the poet and his wife take a gondola ride with two visiting Japanese students:

The girls fidget. Fir tips arrow up now through emptiness. Hawser seems slacker. Girl opposite pulls shaking handle within sleeves of overcoat her Osaka grandfather’s lent.

in still glass gondola
summit snow

Catherine Mair has published haiku, tanka, haibun, poetry and short stories. She was editor of WinterSpin and instigated the Katikati Haiku Pathway as part of her town’s Millennium Project. Many of Catherine’s haibun in this collection are based around a visit to Europe. She writes about a canal boat trip, staying with friends in Heidelberg, moving on to Romania, a Maori family on a New Zealand beach, and a mysterious death in the New Zealand bush. Catherine also contributes an “Afterword . . . Talking About Haibun.”

“Rafting” takes place in Heidelberg, where the poet visits a fleamarket, goes shopping and visits the castle with her friend and the friend’s sister, when she would much rather be sightseeing on her own:

I take note of landmarks, track my way around Heidelberg like a Dachshund (German . . . Dache=badger, Hund=dog)

. . . dicing shallots
making the chore last

Both “Dinosaur Island” and “Tararu Creek Road” have New Zealand settings: the first is about the tuatara and the second about the disappearance of a young girl in bushland:

over Moutohora Island sun rises. Shafts reach into burrow. Two creatures stir

bloodshot eyes
squint . . . hollow earth
quakes with groan

“Tararu Creek Road”:

why didn’t the rangers move closer – question the blonde girl in the glade – the girl with downcast eyes . . . silent . . .

two small cairns
swimming hole

waiting around
another bush-fringed corner
Sarsha’s brown eyes

The language of the haibun is rich and complex – from abstract language to voice, which illuminates and unravels many different experiences. In addition, there are vivid and thorough descriptions, along with examples of good haiku that illustrate the haibun. In some cases, the poems show the evolution of the form as these poets process the habun into their individual styles. It’s a guide to the haibun that poets were writing ‘yesterday,’ with intriguing hints as to what ‘tomorrow’ might hold.

Some of these haibun now appear quite dated as they display an erratic prose style in which images transfer themselves to our minds with a flash, as if projected on a movie screen. Sometimes the haibun appear vacant, generalised, uncompelling, but we have to remember that these were some of the first haibun published in New Zealand and they do have an ‘historical’ value.

These are haibun that we can be used to effectively discuss the craft as it continues to grow in New Zealand; that contain concepts that will help to broaden and stimulate the creative process of writing haibun. The poets’ ‘from-experience’ viewpoints and spirited voices keep shadow-patches relevant, despite its period characteristics, and it is not only easy to read, but hard not to.

by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand

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